Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin said Wednesday (Sept. 30) that his administration has worked to bring a convention center to Jonesboro for several years, working with several groups on the issue.
The discussion over two projects in particular has put some questions and debate between Arkansas State University officials and Perrin about the overall convention center concept.
In emails released Tuesday (Sept. 29), Perrin and ASU-Jonesboro Chancellor Tim Hudson had an exchange in late August that highlighted Hudson’s and ASU’s displeasure with Perrin’s decision to seemingly support a competing convention center project.
“I have said privately and publically, that with competing projects, I would be happy to work with any of the groups; but any assistance could only be provided to one center, and that whichever project came to us first with their approvals is where I would have to focus my time, energy and resources,” Perrin wrote on August 27 when informing Hudson that a convention center project led by the Keller family of Effingham, Ill. had advised him they had financing for a convention center.
“I hope now that we have narrowed to a single project that we can all work together to make this a great win for the Keller family, the city and ASU!” Perrin added.
That led to Hudson responding, “Are you saying that you will not follow through with providing assistance to Arkansas State regarding our plans to locate a hotel and conference center on campus as you have indicated in our various meetings, most recently in the ASU System office in Little Rock with Tim O’Reilly, Mark Young (Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO) and others? I am sure I have misunderstood your meaning as we have been accommodating your timing and tasked our staff at your request in order to provide you information so that we could finalize the potential investments and our ‘approvals.’”
Perrin, a former chairman of the ASU Board of Trustees, said the work by Illinois-based Keller Construction in August to secure financing for the project helped to push their project to the proverbial finish line.
On Tuesday, Talk Business & Politics sent a list of questions to Perrin regarding the convention center project or projects in Jonesboro as a follow-up to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking any and all correspondence between ASU and the city on the issue.
The following are the questions as well as responses from Perrin on the topic.
1) When did the city first speak with Keller in regards to their project and when was the last conversation that you had with ASU in regards to their project?
Perrin: I first spoke with the Kellers about 6 years ago regarding a hotel and convention center project in Jonesboro. At that time, the project did not come to reality. More recently, I spoke with them about two weeks prior to the announcement that they would be moving forward with their project. That would have been in early August. At that time I was told they were once again trying to obtain financing for their project.
I last spoke with Dr. Hudson about their project last week. We were discussing several things, and it was one of the things that came up in our conversation.
2) The documents provided by ASU show that there was an email sent on August 27, 2015 from Tim Hudson to you, as well as meetings set in August of this year in Little Rock to discuss the O’Reilly project. How would you characterize those meetings and was there a change in focus on support from O’Reilly to Keller?
Perrin: Those meetings were positive. I was trying to help ASU get as much support as possible for their project, both on the local and regional level. On August 27th I met with Mark Young and Shawnie Carrier to further discuss what the O’Reilly project would require to move forward. It was after that meeting that I was informed that the Keller project had finalized its financial arrangements and was ready to go. The change in focus on support came when Keller told me they had obtained all the financial approvals they needed to go forward with their project.
3) You have stated, both in the emails as well as publicly that you support the overall plan for a convention center or centers in Jonesboro, especially due to the economic impact that a center or centers would have. However, supporters of the ASU plan would say that the email to Hudson would put Keller as a favorite on the project. What would you say to supporters of the ASU project regarding that?
Perrin: I do not have a “favorite” project. As I said in my email to Dr. Hudson, I would focus my time and energy on whichever project that was ready to go first. I still personally support the ASU project, as I do all appropriate development in Jonesboro. However, we have limited resources that can be directed to a project of this type. Since the Keller project was first to get all the necessary financial approvals, that is where I am focusing our resources.
4) Have you spoken to either Keller or the developers of the project, Halsey Thrasher Harpole, before or since the August 28 announcement?
Perrin: I have gotten updates about the project from people associated with both parties.
5) Did your administration have any discussions with Keller on the Keller project before the August 28 announcement?
Perrin: See my answer to #1.
6) Has Keller expressed when their project would start or when they plan to go to either MAPC or the council for approval?
Perrin: Keller has said they are moving forward as quickly as practicable. They said they would like[ly] be starting construction within the next 90 days, so we expect to see proposals at MAPC very soon.